Desiring God 2012 National Conference

Act the Miracle: God's Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification

I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to talk about sanctification in grandparenting before, but I am glad to do it because as I thought about this topic, it occurred to me that, like parenting, like being married, like having a family, grandparenting is one of those places where your faith really does intersect with life, doesn’t it? I’m quite sure I’m not going to tell you anything you’ve never heard before, but what I’d like to do now is try to connect the miracle, which is our salvation in Christ, with our grandparenting. Now, of course, I have the microphone, so I get to talk about my grandkids and I’m happy to do that.

My name is Mimi, and actually that’s my most important name. Our eldest grandson, who is now 14, is the one who named me. He could have called me Mud. He could have called me anything he wanted to call me and I would’ve answered, and all the grandmas know exactly what I’m talking about here.

My girlfriends would say to me, “Being a grandparent is just the best thing in the world.” And that was before I had grandchildren. I thought, “What’s the big deal? I mean, really. I have three kids. I know what it’s all about.” But no, there’s just no way in the world that any person who’s not a grandparent can understand what happens, particularly with that first grandbaby. And he’s now 14, but he texts me from time to time and he’ll say, “How are you, my lovely lily, or my dear daffodil?” And I mean, there’s this thing, isn’t there, with that grandchild? It’s with all of them, of course. I figured if this isn’t idolatry, I don’t know what idolatry is. But God is kind.

The Blessing and Responsibility of Grandparenting

Proverbs 17:6 says that grandchildren are the crown of the aged. And yes they are, aren’t they? I mean, if you want me to get me talking about anything, it’ll be my grandkids. And then of course, one of the blessings in the songs of ascent, they’re in Psalms 120-134, is this: “May you see your children’s children” (Psalm 128:6). I mean, what a blessing that is, isn’t it? I’m very blessed that all of my grandchildren live within a half an hour of where I am. So in my life, one of the highlights of my life is that once a week I get to see them all. On Sunday we’re going to have a birthday party for one of them and all of them will come together and all the family, and it’ll be so wonderful.

What a blessing. It’s such a great joy. It’s so much more of a joy than I ever thought it was going to be. It’s just amazing to me. And because I have the PowerPoint, you get to see some pictures of them. And that one that sort of that you can’t see, that’s Wesley and he’s 14. And the one with the San Diego Padres hat is Hayden, and he’s 12. And the little one next to me is Allie. Allie is a very special child. She has some special needs, and it’s such a blessing to be able to be with her.

Here’s just a statistic, which you already know. Among the 11.3 million children younger than five whose mothers were employed (it’s a huge statistic, isn’t it?) 30 percent were cared for on a regular basis by a grandparent during their mother’s working hours. So, how many of you take care of your grandchildren while your daughter or son works? Yeah, bunches of you.

According to government estimates, there are approximately 5.7 million grandchildren being raised by their grandparents. That’s a huge figure. And what it represents is the number of families that are blowing apart. Because the children are not able to take care of their children, then the grandparents step in. A lot of times they are going through horrendous court battles to get custody of their grandchildren. This is an area that more and more we’re going to have to deal with and really pray about, that the Lord will help us as an older generation.

The Miracle of the Gospel

So, before I actually talk about grandchildren a lot, I just want to go over the miracle with you again. Just by way of reminder, what is the miracle? Here’s the miracle. This is the good news: that God the Father sent God the Son to live a perfect life. Right now I’m writing on the incarnation, and I’m just amazed every day that Christ lived all those years, many of them in obscurity, because we needed his sinless record of living a normal life every single day for 30 years. And I’m so thankful that Christ lived that sinless life in my place and then died a substitutionary death so that all of the sin that I have committed — let me be very pointed here — even all of the sin that I have committed as a mother and as a grandmother, has been atoned for on the cross.

Isn’t that good news? I mean, that’s such good news because I look back on my parenting, and there are things I did and said that just make me cringe. And I look even now at my grandparenting and I think, “Oh, why did I say that? I shouldn’t have said that. I shouldn’t have done that.” I’m so thankful for the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ where, on the cross, God the Father poured out all of his wrath for all of my sin, even my sin as a grandmother. I’m so thankful for that, so that I don’t have to interact with my grandchildren trying to make it up. Do you know what I mean? I don’t have to try to make up for not being the perfect grandmother I wish I would be.

And then of course, Christ was raised to new life. He died for our sins and was raised for our justification in new life so that before the Father, even now, my record is just as if I had never sinned. That’s good news as a grandparent, isn’t it? It’s just as if I had never sinned, but also just as if I had always obeyed. And that’s really good news. So, my record is that I am justified.

Now what that does — and I’m going to talk about that a little bit more in our presentation today — is that it frees me from having to justify myself as a mother or a grandmother. See, I am justified, and I’ll talk more about that.

And then of course, Christ was raised to new life, broke the power of sin in my life, justified me, and now he’s ruling and reigning. And I just can’t tell you — and I know it’s probably the same for you — how absolutely amazing it is to think that the God-Man, the man Christ Jesus — with a glorified body, yes, but still incarnate — is now ruling in heaven and overruling in everything that goes on in the lives of my children and their children.

Isn’t that good news? What goes on with my children and my grandchildren — though yes, with my children and my grandchildren I am responsible for my sin — God is ruling sovereignly. And so, if I think they’re really making just the dumbest decision, I can know that. Did you ever feel like that? I’ve thought, “Boy, I wish you wouldn’t choose to do that.” God is ruling. The Lord Jesus, the incarnate God-Man, is ruling and overruling as the ascended king. And not only that, but he’s praying for us that our faith will not fail. He’s blessing us with the benediction. All of that was accomplished by God in the power of the Spirit.

Never Assume the Gospel

Now, I don’t know how you can parent or grandparent your children without the gospel. I’m going to rephrase that. When my husband and I were raising our kids, I pretty much ignored the gospel, the miracle, and just assumed it. I mean, I would talk to them about the Lord and I would talk to them about salvation until I thought they had gotten to the place where they understood it and had assented to it. And then I didn’t talk to them about it very much anymore. I primarily talked to them about the rules.

So, for us, my husband and I, as we were raising our children, we were really primarily all about the rules. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with the rules, but that’s not the primary message. The primary message is the miracle. That’s the message. And that’s the message, by the way, that will motivate you and enable you to act the miracle.

So, I’m asking God for grace not to do that now with our grandchildren and to continue to tell them over and over again about the miracle, even though I know they’ve already heard it. Now, sometimes I’ll be with my grandkids and they’ll do something, and I’ll think, “I should say something about the gospel here,” and I have no idea what it is. And I will just say to them, “I know that the gospel means something here, but I don’t know what it is. So, I’m just going to pray that the Lord helps me know what that is, and in the meantime, go get in the car.” I’ll say that kind of thing.

Here are some more pictures. This is Allie, our little sweet granddaughter, and Collin. Collin has a bone disorder, which is a very rare bone disorder. We’ve got these kids that are very special, and we want to care for them and really love them. And I get to show you pictures because it’s my PowerPoint.

Trusting God with Our Grandchildren

So, how does the miracle impact us as grandparents? We can trust that God will work in our grandchildren’s lives no matter what. Isn’t that good news? When you look at your children and your grandchildren and, perhaps, you have the opportunity to watch them interact, I will watch them interact and I will say, “Oh, I wish you wouldn’t say it like that. Oh, I wish you wouldn’t do that.” See? But because God has so demonstrated his love for us in the gospel, that reassures me that he’s going to demonstrate love for them as well.

So I can rest in the sovereignty of God and trust that God will work no matter what. Now, he may use us as means to communicate the miracle. And that’s what we hope, isn’t it? We hope that the Lord will use us as the means. There has to be means, and God uses means. So he may use us as the means to communicate the miracle to them. And that’s my heart cry. “Lord, I want them not only to hear my words but also to see my life, so that you may use me as a means to actually impact them with the good news.” I want that. That’s what I want them to know. I want them to know the good news.

My primary goal, and it may be different for you and that’s fine, but my primary goal with my grandchildren is not to make sure that they get into an Ivy League school. It is not to make sure that they are great athletes, nor is it even really to hope that they are very successful financially in any way. My primary goal with those children is that somehow the Lord will use my life, the way I live, the way I speak, to communicate the good news to them, that there is a God, that Jesus Christ loves sinners, and if they hang around with me long enough, then they know, “Well, Jesus must love sinners because Mimi says Jesus loves her and she’s a sinner.” So, that’s all good. It’s all good.

Oh, there’s Collin, our little bone disorder boy, and his sister Éowyn. Éowyn is a very sweet young lady. And yes, she’s named after the Nazgul slayer in Lord of the Rings, of course.

Salvation Belongs to the Lord

How does the miracle impact us as grandparents? Well, we can trust that he might use us, but then we can also understand he might not. Yes, we know he may use us, but he may not. We may have an opportunity, we may not. And what that means is I have to hold them with my hands open, saying, “You may use me in their lives, Lord, or you may not. I pray that you do, but you may not. Maybe you’ll use someone else or something else.” Yes, I think it’s very difficult for us as grandparents to let go and let the Lord work.

We can rest in his sovereign plan for us and for our grandchildren because salvation is of the Lord. See, if salvation were primarily contingent upon our being good grandparents, that’s not good news, is it? That’s not good news because we fail. I don’t know about you, but I’m going to be 62 in a couple of months and I’m kind of tired. And the reality is, I’m not always on and always happy and always doing everything I should do. I understand very well that salvation has to come from the Lord and I cannot rely upon myself.

This is one more picture. This is Gabriel, and Gabriel’s mom and dad would profess Christianity but they don’t go to church. So Gabriel grows up not going to church. There’s nothing I can do about that besides pray. I mean, how many of you have children in that kind of situation? Gabriel is adorable, but he’s not getting trained.

So I can pray for Gabriel. I can pray for his mom and dad who profess Christianity but don’t take him to church. And I have to trust, don’t I? Because if I don’t trust that God’s going to take care of this, then I’m going to be agitated and fearful and I won’t be able to respond the way that I should.

Acting the Miracle

So what does acting the miracle look like? Here are some very normal kinds of things that we have to face. First of all, I don’t need to worry. My heavenly Father knows what I need. How many of you worry about your grandchildren? Yeah, you worry about them, don’t you? What’s going to happen if they do this? What if they move there? What will happen if they do this? Maybe one of the dads is too strict or too lenient. And then we worry.

I’ll just tell you in my own life — I wrote a book about worry — that it’s very easy for me to worry about what they’re doing with those kids. And then when I worry about what they’re doing with those kids, what happens is I get agitated and I say more than I should say, or I pick a little bit and try to manipulate them into being what I think they should be.

We don’t need to worry. Our heavenly Father knows what we need. That’s such good news. And I can rest in the fact that he is my heavenly Father and that he’s taking care of me because of the good news. You see, if I didn’t have the good news, if I didn’t know that God the Father sent God the Son to live a perfect life and die a substitutionary death in my place, if I didn’t have that demonstration of love and care upon which to ground my life, then when I would look at what was going on with my kids I would worry.

I worry about the little girl with her learning problems. I worry about the little guy with his bone disorder. I mean, I worry about him. What if he doesn’t grow? What if he’s ill his whole life? We worry. And then there’s those other kinds of worries where we see the parents acting toward your grandchildren in ways that make you think, “Oh, they’re too strict,” or, “They’re too lenient.” We don’t need to worry.

Do Not Be Anxious

Jesus said in Matthew 6:25–26, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life,” or your grandchildren. It doesn’t actually say that. I’m just adding it. He says:

Do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds . . .

You can just picture Jesus sitting there on that hill at the Sermon on the Mount and birds flying by and saying, “Just look at the birds. God takes care of them. Look at the lilies. God takes care of them.” Open your eyes. God will take care of you. He will take care of your children. He will take care of your grandchildren. Whatever that might mean. And what that might mean is something other than your plan. I don’t need to try to manipulate my children or grandchildren into my idea of success.

See, how many times do we do that? We want our kids and our grandkids to do a certain thing, act in a certain way, be a particular sort of person, and then we try to manipulate them into that. We can be free of that. Again — I mean, I have one drum and I’m just going to keep beating it — we can be free of it because we know how God loves us and that he has given us these children and that he will love them and care for them. And then I can be free from trying to control every situation.

Now, maybe none of you have problems with trying to control everything (oh, you’re laughing, okay, good). Again, let me just say this, that desire to control flows out of lack of trust in God’s plan. If you have ever said, “I’m just a control freak,” or anything like that, repent. Because that desire to control everything really flows out of lack of trust in God and his plan. Maybe I think he has a plan and I don’t like it, or maybe I think he just needs my help.

Again, it’s trusting that the God who sent his Son will take care of us. I cannot imagine sending one of my grandchildren to die for anyone else. Could you? I can’t imagine that. The love I have for my grandchildren is nothing in comparison to the love the Father has for the Son, and yet he sent his Son and poured out all his wrath upon him for you. Now, in light of that, in light of that, can’t you trust him for your grandchildren? I’m talking to myself. Can’t I trust him to take care of them?

A Manifested Lack of Trust

Whenever I feel that sort of antsy feeling, or a little uncomfortable, it’s about remembering the gospel and remembering the miracle again. We can say, “Lord, you have done everything. I can rest.” So, if they want to celebrate Halloween or Santa, that’s their choice. I’m not even going to comment about where I am with those things, but there is a place as a grandparent where you have certain standards, certain things that you think are right, and then your children go off and they marry some person and they have ideas about what’s right and what’s not right. It’s so hard. Isn’t it so hard to just say, “Okay”?

You see, because they are no longer under your authority. That’s so hard to get through my brain. They’re no longer under our authority. They have their own families and they have their own children. And quite frankly, I don’t think it’s necessary for you as a grandparent to continually say what your standards are over and over and over again.

My guess is that most of your kids already know what your standards are. So, it’s probably not necessary that every time they show up to trick or treat, you have to tell them what you think of Halloween, or whatever it may be. And I’m just using those as examples. There can be a thousand different things. We don’t need to tell them.

I wish that my son and my daughter-in-law and their little guy went to church every Sunday. I wish they were in a good church. They know I think that. I’ve already made that abundantly clear. I don’t need to say it over and over and over again. See, that thing that’s within us that makes us want to say it over and over and over, that is lack of trust. That’s the desire to control.

Now, that’s not to say that we don’t ever say it once, but once you’ve said it you don’t have to keep saying it. So many Christian grandparents have a child living with another person who’s not their spouse and they have children in that relationship. We don’t need to continually say, “You really ought to be married.” They already know what you think.

See, my point is to open my arms as much as I can, to love them, to bring them good news, and then let God work in them — in my children and in my grandchildren. If they want to celebrate those things, that’s their choice. God is in control. If they don’t want to celebrate those things, if they don’t want to have a Christmas tree, if they think they have to go to church five times a week, whatever. It is their home, not mine.

God Is in Control

That’s one of those really hard things. Because here’s a person, your grandchild, that you love so much. Now, people ask me how old my kids are. I don’t know how old my kids are. I sort of know how old they are. I mean, I know what decade they’re in. But I know exactly how old my grandkids are. I’m so tied to my grandchildren. But I have to be really careful that I don’t foist upon them unhealthy things. It could be a very conscious way of saying, “I think that what your mom and dad are doing is really stupid,” which, if I want to see my grandchildren, I don’t talk that way. It could also just be subtle ways of saying, “Well, that’s not what I do.”

I want to try very hard to love my children and to love my children and encourage them, remembering all the mistakes that I made as a parent when I was 20-something or 30-something. I think of all of the mistakes that I made, really ridiculous things that I did. And yet, God is in control.

Free to Be Able to Fail

This one is so hard. I can also be free to let them fail. Isn’t that so hard, to be free to let them fail? We love our grandchildren and we really don’t want them to have trouble, do we? If I could make a trouble-free world for my darlings, I would do that. But that’s not how God has set things up. And frequently, I know in my own life, God has consistently taught me more through failure than through success. Has it been the same for you, that God has, through the difficulties, through the trials, through the failures, taught you?

He will use your children’s failures and your grandchildren’s failures to teach them what he wants them to know. Now, just to be sure that you understand what I’m saying. I’m not saying, “Okay. So, we don’t ever say anything about anything. We just think, ‘Everything goes.’” I’m not saying that at all. But as grandparents, we have to be very, very wise and really manage that desire that’s in our hearts to try to control what’s happening with those kids and shield them from failure.

We want to shield them. You know how you feel when something happens to your grandchild. The little girl with the learning problem, she can hardly read. She’s in programs and we’re working, but she can barely read. She’s nine years old. But she’s a great athlete. So God’s given her some gifts in some ways. When she goes to her softball games, some of the girls will maybe be playing some sort of a game like Hangman or a reading game or something, and she can’t play it. And it’s not just because she’s being stubborn or something. She really has brain problems. And when I hear them talk to her, it hurts. Do you know what I mean? It’s just that feeling, “Can I just take that hit for you? I want to keep you from ever feeling failure, or ever feeling rejected. I want to do that.”

And yet, this is how the sovereign God, who loves me enough to have sent his Son to die in my place, and loves her enough to have sent his Son to die in her place, has created her. So I have to bow my knees. Do you know what I mean? You bow your knees before the sovereign God and you say, “Let your will be done.”

Now, he may use her because she’s absolutely fearless and she’s got this great athletic ability. We were talking just recently. My mother-in-law died within the last four weeks. So we were talking about what happens to peoples’ bodies after they die. She was in the car and we were talking. And so we were talking about, “Well, some people are buried.” Because we had to talk about the casket. She was going to see the casket. And we said, “Some people are cremated.” And then we talked about it, saying, “Well, the people who are cremated, sometimes they want their ashes spread in different places.”

We were just having this conversation. And she said, “When I die, I want my ashes to be spread in the jungle,” because she wants to be a missionary and she wants to be with animals. See, God is shaping her in a very unique way to perform a very specific work through her. It is not my plan for her. That’s not my plan for her at all. I have another plan. God, on the other hand, has a plan for her. So I have to bow the knee.

You know how that works because if one of your grandkids is struggling, then you want to get onto your kids about what they’re doing with that child. I mean, there are all of those ways that we try to control. God consistently uses failure in our own lives and will do so in the lives of our grandchildren to make us and to make them into the people he wants us to be, so that we no longer trust in ourselves, but on God who raises the dead. That’s the point.

God Doesn’t Need us

Sometimes we walk through very difficult times, times perhaps when we have a very ill grandchild or even when a grandchild that dies. We are continually saying, “Not my will but yours be done. And I can trust your will because of what you’ve done for me in Christ.”

Now let me just ask you a question: how many of you were raised in non-Christian or nominally Christian homes? Raise your hand. Okay, I want you all to look around. Do you see all these hands? It’s really shocking. We do this. My daughter and I do the Give Them Grace seminar a lot, and we do it, and at least half of the people who are at the seminars raise their hands.

Now, what that needs to say to us is that the salvation of your children and grandchildren does not depend on you as a grandparent, or your children as a parent, getting your act perfectly together. That’s good news. Isn’t that good news? Because I look at our son and daughter who don’t go to church and I can despair over Gabriel and what’s going to happen with Gabe. He’s not being trained in the ways of the Lord. And then I remember, neither was I. I was raised in a completely secular home. My mother was a non-practicing Catholic. My father was a non-practicing Jew. And yet God saved me.

See, that’s good news. If I can give you one message here today it’s that you can trust him. And even if your children are not doing what you would hope your children would do with your grandchildren, you can trust the Lord. You can trust him. He will save them and work through them according to his plan.

A Grandparent’s Greatest Identity

So, what does acting the miracle look like? My identity is found in Christ. Now, this is really hard for me because quite frankly, my primary identity is Mimi. I mean, that’s who I am. There’s really nothing I want to do besides go and hang out with my grandkids. And we have Disneyland passes because we live in Southern California. And it just kills me because yesterday they all went to Disneyland together and I didn’t go. But that’s not really my primary identity.

My primary identity is that I am one who has been loved immeasurably and completely known, so I can love my kids and my grandkids. I have been loved, and therefore, I don’t have to look for love and respect from them. I can pour out love for them because I have been loved and completely known. I can love and serve them even when I disagree with them.

And because I am completely justified, I don’t have to use their success to try to justify myself. That’s such good news. It’s such good news. Because now I can love them — if I can use this word — detachedly. Do you know what I mean? It’s like my personal self-worth is not wrapped up in how they do. I can love them. And the grandparenting thing is just so marvelous because that’s one of those places you can just pour out love and pour out. I have to keep writing books and getting royalty checks because I have a grandchild habit I have to continue to support. I can share the great joy of blessing of the miracle and know that God has blessed the words of grandparents before me.

Tell Your Children’s Children

Here’s just a couple of verses as we close our time together. Deuteronomy 4:9 says:

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children’s children . . .

And you will have opportunities to do that. I just want to encourage you, take the opportunities that are natural and open up. Don’t worry about always trying to cram it in. There is a famous grandma verse, which Paul says to Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5).

So, we can pass that faith on. And oh, by the way, Timothy grew up with an unbelieving father. So, we don’t have to flip out if the family doesn’t look exactly like we hope it should look. God can work. God can raise up a Timothy in a home where they never have devotions. I’m not saying, “Don’t have devotions.” That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that if it’s the home of your grandchildren.

This is a picture of my daughter and the old lady that you can see here, that’s my mother-in-law. And she was a missionary and an evangelist her whole life. She gave the good news to my husband and his brothers. She went to be with the Lord about three weeks ago. This is my daughter and her family. And this is that perfect picture of my mother-in-law giving that faith to my daughter. And it was a beautiful thing.

But she’s also really remembered as being a woman who loved to have parties. When we memorialized her at her service, that’s one of the things that everybody said. They said, “We remember Thelma and how she loved to have a party. She was so wonderful to be with.”

Waiting on the Lord

Paul continues later:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14–15).

Yes, I want to give them the word. I want to do it appropriately. I want to do it gently. I want to wait for gospel opportunities. But yes, I want to do that as well. And never out of a heart of agitation. This is my son, Joel, who’s at Westminster Seminary, and here is my daughter-in-law, Éowyn, Collin, and there is grandma and grandpa.

So, what does acting the miracle look like? Most importantly, we can pray. Because there are loads of times we can’t say anything. We know I just can’t do it now. They’re done hearing me. But we can pray. And here’s my favorite verse on prayer:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession (hang in there — believe). For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace (if anything in the world will make you pray, it’s being a grandparent), that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:14–16).

Then, just for your information, this is a book that Jessica, my daughter, and I have written on parenting called Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus. You might find it helpful if you want to know how to connect the act, what God has already done, to your daily life.